Just about any car can be fun with enough horsepower under its hood (just look at the 707-horsepower 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat), but it’s a far more challenging to find a modern car that is entertaining with just 155 horsepower at its disposal. As it has done for the last 26 years, this is the exact formula that Mazda has perfected once again with the rollout of the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata, focusing on a low curb weight that is perfectly balanced, rather than numbers on a spec sheet.

All new from the ground up, the fourth-generation ND Miata builds on the strengths of its predecessors while improving on the weaknesses – what few there were. The best thing about the Miata has always been its ability to be an enjoyable and comfortable roadster regardless of the types of roads you live near (for me, that would be the flat, straight and boring roads of Florida), but for this first drive of the newest Miata, I traveled to Southern California to enjoy the car in its ideal habitat, including the famed Mullholland Drive.

Continue reading for the full story.

  • 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata - Driven
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2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata - Driven Exterior Test drive
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2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata - Driven Exterior Test drive
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2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata - Driven Exterior Test drive
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Over its lifetime, the Mazda Miata has always had an expression-filled face, from the surprised, bug-eyed NA car to the goofy-grinned NC, and the ND rounds out the list of emotions with an angry design of its front end.

The lightweight cloth top is spring loaded and can be raised or lowered in just five seconds.

Inspired by Mazda’s ultra-stylish Kodo design language, the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata has an aggressive face that features a low-slung grille, angry LED headlights and tall, wide wheel arches. The profile of the Miata has also been improved upon with intricate body lines that create a visual sense of motion, but it’s the rear view that might be the most polarizing, with round taillights that are set as inward as Mazda says the regulations of vehicle design will allow.

Adding to the car’s looks, the mid-level Miata Club gets touches such as blacked-out door mirrors and windshield trim, but for optimal styling and performance, the Brembo/BBS package brings a slew of upgrades such as the Brembo front brakes, all four brake calipers painted red, lightweight, forged 17-inch BBS wheels and a black chin spoiler and lower body extensions.

If I were in the market for a 2016 Miata, the combination you see here (including the signature Soul Red paint job) is exactly the way I’d go.

The best way to enjoy the Miata is with the top down, of course, but even when the weather isn’t participating, the roadster looks equally good with its top up. Miata owners needn’t worry about the weather as the lightweight cloth top is spring loaded and can be raised or lowered in just five seconds.


2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata - Driven Interior Test drive
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2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata - Driven Interior Test drive
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2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata - Driven Interior Test drive
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Climbing behind the wheel, it’s easy to see that this is where Mazda made the bulk of the improvements over the previous Miatas. Matching the simplistic, driver-oriented theme of the Miata, the cabin design has always been a lackluster effort at best, but that has changed as Mazda brings cues from the sporty and stylish Mazda3 cabin into the Miata. The instrument panel is extremely clean, thanks to the new 7-inch center display screen (standard), which is controlled by the buttons and rotating knob on the center console.

“In a sports car, shifting is more important than drinking,” Mazda.

In the name of optimizing legroom, headroom and ergonomics, the seats have been positioned lower in the car and closer together, and the reduced space in between the seats is noticeable. The good news, though, is that the space seems less cramped with the use of removable cup holders that snap into three locations on the center console.

As Mazda engineer Dave Coleman put it: “In a sports car, shifting is more important than drinking.” Despite its small size, the Miata does have a good-sized trunk with 4.5 cubic feet of cargo space, or about two rollerboard suitcases.

When it comes to tech, the Miata’s cabin is advanced as it looks. A nine-speaker Bose audio system was developed specifically for the 2016 Miata (Club and GT models), and the infotainment is clear and easy to use. Push-button start is standard on all Miatas, and advanced driver assist technologies such as lane departure warning and blind spot monitoring are standard on the GT.


2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata - Driven Drivetrain Test drive
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In the U.S., the only engine that will be available in the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata is the Skyactiv 2.0-liter four-cylinder rated at 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque.

Curb weight is down by at least 150 pounds (depending on the trim level), maintaining a perfect 50:50 weight distribution and a fun power-to-weight ratio.

With the manual transmission, year-over-year power is actually down by 12 horsepower, but Mazda points out that the new Skyactiv engine actually produces more power when running under 5,800 rpm.

Even better, curb weight is down by at least 150 pounds (depending on the trim level), maintaining a perfect 50:50 weight distribution and a fun power-to-weight ratio.

An automatic transmission will continue to be optional on the ND Miata, but standard equipment is the close-ratio, six-speed manual gearbox.

With the manual, the Miata is rated at 27 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway, marking substantial improvements over the NC, and while choosing the automatic will equate to blasphemy for purists, it will return surprising fuel economy of 27 mpg city and 36 mpg highway.

Driving Impression

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata - Driven Exterior Test drive
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Just sitting there, the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata is an impressive little roadster, but this car just begs to be driven… and driven hard. After a little freeway driving (aka, acquainting myself with the lug nuts of passing trucks), our drive route took us along some of the best roads California has to offer. Blasting along Mullholland, the Miata handled like a go-kart.

Mazda doesn’t list an official 0-60 time, but it says the ND is a full second faster than the NC.

Although the electric power steering limits the feedback from the road, the car is small enough and sits low enough that there is no question what’s going on outside. Making matters better, the low hood and wide door mirrors allow easy sight lines to the road, providing an easy view of the upcoming switchbacks – a trait that came in very handy following heavy rains that caused washed-out roads and rock slides. Nothing tests a car’s balance and stability like swerving to avoid a large rock midway through a tight turn.

Cruising up the Pacific Coast Highway, I was able to get a better idea of the Miata’s straight-line acceleration, which isn’t going to break your neck, but when you’re about four inches off the ground, 55 mph feels closer to 80. Mazda doesn’t list an official 0-60 time, but it says the ND is a full second faster (right around seven seconds) than the NC, based on third-party evaluation.

Peak engine power comes in at 6,000 rpm, which is where the quick-shifting manual gearbox really comes in handy. The light clutch and short throws make it easy to drive this car hard. And bringing the lightweight roadster to a halt is an easy task despite the ND having smaller front brakes than the NC.

With the top up at highway speeds, the cabin is impressively quiet, but I only tried that while sitting in L.A. traffic. As much as I hate driving a convertible in nice weather with the top up, there’s something to be said for a little break from the noise and exhaust fumes from creeping big-rigs.


2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata - Driven Emblems and Logo Exterior Test drive
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Over the years, one of the hallmarks of the Miata has been its affordability, and this continues with the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata. Starting at $24,915, the new Miata is just $945 more than its predecessor, while adding more features and better comfort. On top of that, Mazda says that when adjusted for inflation, the 2016 Miata is actually more affordable than the original Miata that sold for $13,800. In the mid-level Club trim, the 2016 Miata starts at $28,600, and with a few features (including $3,400 for the Brembo/BBS package), this Soul Red Miata I drove had an as-tested price of $32,950.


2013-2015 Scion FR-S

2013 - 2015 Scion FR-S High Resolution Exterior
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When it comes to the amount of fun the Miata affords its driver for the price, few cars compete with the Miata as well as the Scion FR-S. Although it lacks a drop-top option, the FR-S is very similar to the Miata when it comes to price ($24,900) and curb weight (2,758 pounds). The Boxer engine does produce 200 horsepower, but it has about 400 extra pounds of weight to push around.

Read our full review of the Scion FR-S here.

2014-2016 Nissan 370Z Roadster

2014 - 2016 Nissan 370Z Roadster High Resolution Exterior
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Nissan’s Z car is a shining example of how a performance icon can evolve without alienating its fans. If price was no issue, it would be very hard to choose between the Miata and the 332-horsepower 370Z Roadster weighing about 3,500 pounds and costing $41,200. The V-6-powered 370Z also can’t come close to the Miata’s fuel economy, with ratings that top out at 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway, but it is a bit more practical with more cabin space – surprisingly, the Miata actually has more trunk space than the 370Z Roadster!

Read our full review of the Nissan 370Z Roadster here.


2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata - Driven Exterior Test drive
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I’ve been waiting a long time to drive the new Miata (I even watched the lame Duran Duran concert to see this car for the first time), and let me tell you, it was worth the wait. The 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata finally has the exciting looks to back up its driving dynamics, while the added technology and excellent fuel economy negate any arguments for this car sacrificing the conveniences that have become commonplace in today’s cars. Like any sports car, the new Miata has its imperfections, but even still, this car is fun, stylish, affordable and efficient, which is a big win for driving enthusiasts.

  • Leave it
    • Front seats too close together
    • Brembo brakes not available on GT trim
    • Rear end looks too frumpy
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